Other Baptists according to Curtis Freeman

10649727_10152732551628669_7606530891851243226_n 6a00d8341cb64e53ef01bb079e4e5d970dExtracts from Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists by Curtis Freeman (Baylor, 2014):

Other Baptists are sick, and they know it. This sickness is terminal, and it is shared by others. But there is good news; there is a cure. Other Baptists find the cure for their alterity by participating in the life of the triune God with the communion of saints in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. (p.23)

Other Baptists are committed to continuing reform and retrieving the tradition of the church.

Other Baptists have said farewell to the establishment of Christendom in search of a contesting catholicity.

Other Baptists long to see their churches take a new direction that is neither conservative nor liberal nor something in between.

Other Baptists affirm the beliefs and practices that have shaped the identity and mission of baptistic communities through the centuries,  but they also desire to be in continuity with the historic Christian tradition.

Other Baptists seek to move beyond modernity, yet they are deliberate about retrieving a connection between faith and practice of the once, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Other Baptists do not claim to have the final word but rather invite the wider community of Baptists to enter a conversation about the way forward.

Other Baptists pursue the direction of a theology that is deliberately baptistic and intentionally catholic. (pp.91-92)

Other Baptists have been more open to the use of creeds when not employed to bind the conscience. By voluntarily reciting the ancient ecumenical creeds of the church, Other Baptists move beyond fundamentalism and liberalism and toward the bedrock of catholicity. (p.138)

Other Baptists seek the recovery of catholicity because there is nothing more qualitatively or quantitatively catholic than the Trinity. The choice is clear. (p.190)

For Other Baptist pilgrims, the journey is about practices, not just principles; convictions, not merely concepts; communion, not individualism. (p.209)

Other Baptists understand that they are priests to one another by participating as ministers in the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ, the mediator of the new covenant. (p.223)

Other Baptists believe that embracing a greater sense of catholicity offers hope of being sustained in the ecclesial pilgrimage through the wilderness of life after Christendom. (p.257)

Other Baptists must see to it that there is enough catholicity existing among them to be recognized by Christians within the wider church. (p.258)

Other Baptists can with expectant hope offer this prayer:

            O Father, Son, and Spirit, send us increase from above;
            Enlarge, expand all Christian souls to comprehend thy love;
            and make us to go on to know with nobler powers conferred;
            The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word.

Other Baptists … [seek] to move from a theology of simple faith, private devotion, obligatory ordinance, real absence, and mere symbol to a theology of sacramental participation, common prayer, life-giving practice, real presence, and powerful signs. (p.338)

Other Baptists are prepared to see infant baptism as a form of baptism derived from the norm of believer’s baptism, while only practicing the normative form in their own communities. (p.373)

Other Baptists seek a way forward that enables their churches to “accept into full membership all confirmed Christians, who present themselves for membership, without requiring a second baptism. This is the constraint of catholicity and it is a constraint Other Baptists freely embrace. (p.383)

To their brothers and sisters in the wider church, Other Baptists can only attest that catholicity is not an option. It is the only reality. For either Baptists churches are expressions of the church catholic or they are not the church at all. (p.390)

In Honour of Paul Fiddes


This evening saw Regent's Park College honour Paul Fiddes with two festschrifts. Paul, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford - a title uniquely conferred on him in 2002 - and former Principal of Regent's Park College and current Director of Research, is the pre-eminent Baptist theologian at work in the world today. It was then more than fitting that the contribution he has made to the task of theology, both with academia and the church be recognised.

The evening was a planned surprise of which Paul had no prior knowledge -  rarely do you see him stuck for words, but his speech in response was brief, demonstrating how touched he was by the presence of friends and colleagues and the two books. Jürgen Moltmann, who taught Paul for a year back in 1976, started the evening by giving a lecture on behalf of the Centre of Christianity and Culture based at Regent's (celebrating 20 years this year, having been birthed by Paul in the early 1990s). Moltmann named Paul as a 'radical Baptist.' The evening then continued to present Paul with the festschrifts, which included a speech from Rex Mason, former tutor in Old Testament at Regent's. He shared that he knew Paul as a child (Paul's grandparents being in the church where Rex was then minister).

9780198709565_450The two festschrifts reflect Paul's contribution to academic theology and to Baptist church life. The first, Within the Love of God: Essays on the Doctrine of God in Honour of Paul S. Fiddes, is edited by Andrew Moore and Anthony Clarke (both former students and now current colleagues of Paul) and draws together an international line-up of theologians including Jürgen Moltmann, John Webster, Keith Ward, Paul Helm, Frances Young, David Burrell, Chris Rowland, John Barton and two other Baptist theologians in John Colwell and Stephen Holmes. The book engages in different ways with the doctrine of God, which has been a central focus of Paul's theology, especially in his first major book The Creative Suffering of God and the later Participating in God.

The second book, For the Sake of the Church: Essays in Honour of Paul S. Fiddes, edited by Anthony Clarke (again!) is a collection of essays by colleagues at Regent's Park - Rob Ellis, Nick Wood, Myra Blyth, Larry Kreizter and Deborah Rooke, Anthony Clarke, Tim Bradshaw - as well as other British Baptists scholars - Ruth Gouldbourne, Stephen Finamore, Nigel Wright, Richard Kidd, Brian Haymes, John Weaver and John Briggs. These essays mostly reflect and interact with Paul's contributions to Baptist theology and life, with regards to ecclesiology, the sacraments and ministry.

Both books are fitting tributes and offer some good critical engagement with Paul's theology. (Other future festschrifts might reflect Paul's contribution both to wider Baptist life and in the area of ecumenical conversations).

Paul has been in Oxford since the 1960s and at Regent's since the 1970s and so you could say it was long overdue to honour him in this way. Paul is the Baptist gift to wider theology - we have produced very few theologians of his stature. As Baptists, I'm not sure we will see another like him (partly because as a Baptist Union in Great Britain we don't invest and encourage people to take up the theological task like Paul has) and as Baptists, I'm not sure we've really fully appreciated and paid enough attention to his voice, but here's hoping these festschrifts will be one way to change that. 

Book Review: Contesting Catholicity by Curtis Freeman

UnknownCurtis W. Freeman, Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor, 2014), 466pp.

This is a very very good book and this is indicated by those who have commended it - Sarah Coakley, Ephraim Radner, Carl Braaten, David Tracy, Gerald O'Collins , Robert Louis Wilken and fellow Baptist, Paul Fiddes. This may well be one of the most important books written by a Baptist, both for its vision of Baptist life for Baptists and also for its vision of the church for those of other traditions.

The book tells something of Freeman's theological pilgrimage to becoming an 'Other Baptist.' The term 'Other Baptist' having its origins in being the only box Freeman felt he could tick in a list of various types of Baptist. There is something then of the confessional nature in the book. In Freeman's usage it describes a Baptist who is catholic, one who is seeking to chart a way beyond fundamentalism and liberalism. Freeman defines an Other Baptist as one in which there may well be:

frustration with both lukewarm liberalism and hyper fundamentalism; a desire to confess the faith once delivered to all the saints, not as a matter of coercion, but as a simple acknowledgement of where they stand and what they believe; a recognition of the Trinity as the centre of the life to which they are drawn; a longing to be priests to others in a culture of self-reliance; a hope of sharing life together that is not merely based on a common culture or determined by shared interests; a commitment to follow the teachings of the Bible that they understand and being open to receive more light and truth that they do not yet understand; trusting in God's promise of presence in water and table; a yearning for the fulfilment of the Lord's prayer that the church may be one.' (p.26)

The book demonstrates the influence of James McClendon and to lesser extent Stanley Hauerwas, both of whom have played very important roles in Freeman's journey to Other Baptist-ness. Another of reading the book is as one very long footnote to the "Manifesto" that Freeman, McClendon and others published in 1997, which was a cry for Baptists, particularly in North America, to a more radical way of being Baptist and catholic.    

Contesting Catholicity comes in two parts. The first part sets out what Freeman understands as the 'sickness'  in Baptist life. The sickness largely being an individualism, which has its roots in modernity, rather than Baptist beginnings, and is pervasive amongst Baptists, whether fundamentalist or liberalist. Freeman sees in postliberalism, and the work of Hans Frei and George Lindbeck, a faith that is best expressed as a 'generous orthodoxy' (Frei's phrase), which moves beyond the rigid positions of fundamentalism and liberalism.

The second part of the book explores what a theology for Other Baptists looks like in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, the doctrine of the church, the reading of the Bible, the Lord's Supper and the practice of baptism. Freeman demonstrates a real gift of narrating the way Baptists (in Western Christianity) have thought through and lived out their theology, moving freely across four hundred years of history. In this way Freeman follows his teacher McClendon in a way of doing theology that is embodied, not abstract, and that is rooted in local church communities. The voice that resounds throughout the book (one I had not come across before) is of a Baptist pastor and theologian named Carlyle Marney, active in the 1950s and 60s, who Freeman sees as articulating the basis and direction - a Baptist pilgrim road as it were - for Other Baptists. One of the things I most enjoyed about the book is the way Freeman does his theology largely through narrative (pointing to the influence of McClendon and Hauerwas).

Reading the book I found myself saying 'this is me'. I am an Other Baptist, or at least seeking to be. The book in many places was a means of confirmation rather than an initiation into a new way of being Baptist, but this may reflect that my reading habits in the last ten years have been from a similar shelf to Freeman - Hauerwas and Fiddes especially. If you're a signed up catholic Baptist, what there is to enjoy here is the clarity of the argument, the depth of the reading and analysis and done in a way that is particularly Baptist, but at every point with a catholic vision and intention. Freeman is writing theology for the whole church, not just the Baptist branch. Miroslav Volf's 1998 work After the Likeness put John Smyth (and Baptist theology) on the radar for a new audience, Freeman provides a form of sequel in which Smyth and those who have followed in his tracks are the central characters in 'a dissenting movement within the church catholic' (Fiddes).

The message to Baptists then is stop being anti-catholic whether aggressively or with indifference, because if we are not an expression of catholicity, then, if not going too far for Freeman, (and to borrow a phrase from Hauerwas), 'your salvation is in doubt.' The message to everyone else is you need to take us Baptists as offering a catholic tradition and vision that sits alongside others and so is contested. Freeman certainly provides a rich description of that catholic baptist tradition and vision and for that we must thank him.

I read this book over three nights, such was the pull of its narrative and its possibility of being an 'Other' Baptist, it now deserves to be read again, more slowly. I hope many others will do the same.

New Books from British Baptists

Good to see Wipf & Stock supporting British Baptist scholarship.

Over the last few months they have published

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Rob Ellis' book on theology and sport: The Games People Play: Theology, Religion, and Sport

Anne Clements' PhD thesis: Mothers on the Margin? The Significance of the Women in Matthew’s Genealogy

Joshua Searle's PhD thesis: The Scarlet Woman and the Red Hand: Evangelical Apocalyptic Belief in the Northern Ireland Troubles (wins prize for best title!)


Peter Morden's PhD thesis (already published in the UK by the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage): Communion with Christ and His People: The Spirituality of C. H. Spurgeon

In addition, Ian Stackhouse (and Oliver Crisp) have edited Text Message: The Centrality of Scripture in Preaching.

Baptists, Theology and the Whitley Lecture

F1a909c119bc47bc89fdd9e8085853a3It often feels that too many Baptists (in the UK only?) give short shrift to the work of theology. We know we probably need some, but definitely not too much. The Whitley Lecture is one small recognition that Baptists are doing theology. Although it  was founded in 1949, during the 1980s (if not before) it fell by the wayside. It was recovered in 1996 as an annual public lecture given by a Baptist. And every year, apart from 2005, it has been delivered around the Baptist colleges and at the Baptist Assembly. Sadly, at an Assembly reduced to two days (and in following years to one day), there is no space for it to be heard.

This year it has been delivered at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London and, I'm pleased to say, to a small crowd today at Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend.

Over the last eighteen years the Whitley Lecture has demonstrated that there are a few Baptists who have been encouraged to think theologically and at depth. Many of those who delivered it have been past recipients of a BU Scholarship to pursue doctoral research. It has also shown a wide range of topics and interests amongst Baptists. So the Lecture has covered issues of political theology, ministry, eucharistic theology, the place of children, violence, tradition, ecclesiology, worship, disability, medical ethics and interpreting the Bible. 

Two of the most important Lectures in terms of helping local Baptist churches and their wider bodies, I think, have been on the matter of biblical interpretation. The first is Sean Winter's 2007 Lecture, 'More Light and Truth?: Biblical Interpretation in Covenantal Perspective' and the second is this year's lecture by Helen Dare, 'Always on the way and in the fray: Reading the Bible as Baptists.' Both lectures seek to explore in related ways the nature of how Baptist communities read the Bible together. Baptist communities are understood as those who have covenanted together before God and with one another, but who find when we pay attention to the diversity of voices amongst us, that there will be inevitable disagreement. Sean Winter reminds us that interpreting the Bible is always an ongoing exercise, that is, there is always more light and truth to be revealed. In her lecture, Helen Dare turns to Walter Brueggemann as a dialogue partner, whose work on the relationship between God and Israel is one that is richly helpful in terms of what it might mean to read Scripture in community.

Both works challenge Baptists to reflect on how the Bible is read within our churches, whether in terms of worship, study or church meeting. Both seek to show how our Bible reading is always 'on the way', its ongoing activity, because we are a community on our way, and 'in the fray', it is a passionate activity, because we are a community with convictions, which in some places can be deeply contested. Both seek to show how we read the Bible is a divine activity, it seeks the hear the Word in the text, but also a human one with all its ability to read coercively.

Both Winter and Dare (and the wider work within the volume edited by Dare and Woodman on Baptist hermeneutics), show the possibilities of a Baptist approach to reading scripture that takes God, the church and particular voices seriously, as we aim to be faithful to scripture and the call of Christ.

Recent UK Baptist PhDs

Here's a list of recent Baptist PhD's undertaken in the UK (and in one case Ireland). They show a range of areas of research.

Ben Dare (2012) Foundations of ‘Ecological Reformation’: a critical study of Jürgen Moltmann’s contributions towards a ‘New Theological Architecture’ for environment care. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University. 

Jürgen Moltmann’s desire to see the relationship between humans and our natural environment improve is long-standing. In later years he called for a ‘new theological architecture’ to help facilitate an ‘ecological reformation’ of Christianity and society. While Moltmann did not claim to have created this new architecture, one of his work’s aims has clearly been to contribute towards it. To what extent has Moltmann been successful in this aim? Firstly, his doctrine of the Trinity provides the themes of love and relatedness which pervade and colour his whole project. These themes then interact with other key areas of Moltmann’s thought that inform this architecture: creation, God’s ongoing care and openness towards creation (largely pneumatology and christology), and eschatology. Each of these areas contribute to a theological architecture in which non-human creation, past, present, and future, is a full recipient of God’s uniting love and openness. Naturally this leads towards a consideration of the ecological reformation. Less positively, Moltmann’s discussion of God’s creating through self-restriction presents some problems for this architecture’s coherence, although Moltmann’s developing views on this do help provide a solution. Furthermore, analysis of the criticisms made by various commentators suggests that several debated areas are actually particularly productive for Moltmann’s contributions to the architecture. Other criticisms do highlight areas of concern and possible development, but do not present terminal problems. The potential for this architecture to address practice, not simply theory, increases through elements of Moltmann’s theological anthropology that challenge humanity’s behaviour. Those elements thus form a lens through which Moltmann’s wider contributions to the architecture more powerfully speak of the need for creation care. Therefore, while Moltmann’s contribution towards a new architecture for ecological reformation would be helped by certain modifications, nevertheless it is highly significant. Its wide scope makes it fertile for further contributions and development.

Myra Blyth (2012) Towards a restorative hermeneutic: local Christian communities responding to crime and wrongdoing. PhD Thesis, University of Birmingham.

This study proposes a restorative hermeneutic and uses it to assess and evaluate the ‘restorativity’ of the responses of five local Christian communities to crime and wrongdoing. Its central contention is that they can become more ‘restorative’ by critically reflecting on their responses to crime and wrongdoing using the hermeneutic. In chapters I to III, the hermeneutic is established through a mutual critical dialogue between restorative justice and contemporary atonement theology. It has three core principles: ‘radical participation’, ‘righting wrong in a morally serious way’ and ‘reintegration’. These principles are extrapolated from a definition of restorative justice and resonate with the key themes of contemporary atonement theology. In chapters IV and V the understanding, attitude and practical response of these local Christian communities to crime and wrongdoing are categorised and assessed. The findings are then systematically evaluated using the restorative hermeneutic. The final chapter articulates the main conclusion, that to achieve a more restorative response to crime and wrongdoing local Christian communities need to develop a sustained critical dialogue with secularisation theory, an even balance between addressing personal and structural types of crime and wrongdoing, and a critical understanding of the underlying causes of crime and wrongdoing. 

Michael Peat (2011) Affirming our human nature : a theological consideration of prenatal genetic modification. DPhil thesis, University of Oxford.

In Part One, two prominent liberal philosophical concepts used in debates about prenatal genetic intervention are critically assessed: “procreative liberty” and the child’s “right to an open future.” “Procreative liberty” is exposed as incapable of adequately adjudicating the moral claims of present and future persons, and both concepts espouse an understanding of freedom as “negative liberty” which is challenged with the aid of an argument by Charles Taylor. Transhumanist ideals are outlined as an example of an “objective” vision of human good which encourages potential genetic modifications it deems uncontroversial.

   Part Two outlines the rudiments of Robert Spaemann’s moral thought in order to evaluate his proposal that genetic modification of future persons is intrinsically opposed to their human dignity. In the course of clarifying Spaemann’s reasoning, the concerns of various thinkers are presented to illuminate pertinent issues, such as the extent to which “beneficial” interventions may be disguised instances of coercion, the nature of personal life and freedom, and the meaning of “natural spontaneity.” The reasoning underlying Spaemann’s rejection of “genetic manipulation” is found to be unconvincing, although his core insight that responsibilities to future generations involve affirming their “human nature” is co-opted for further exploration.

Part Three sets out to redress the lacuna observed in Spaeman’s approach, exploring possibilities for specifying morally relevant features of “human nature” presented in recent discussion about the meaning of “health,” “disease” and “species-typical functioning.” Insights gained from this investigation inform a theological understanding of what is implied in honouring “natural human life.” Virtues such as humility and patience are explained and used to counter alternative theological treatments of human genetics that truncate a trinitarian understanding of providence. The Conclusion offers general criteria for discriminating between legitimate and illegitimate prenatal interventions based on a theological understanding of freedom in terms of vocation.

Sally Nelson (2011) Confronting ‘meaningless’ suffering: from suffering-as-insult to suffering-as-ontological-impertinence. DPhil thesis, University of Manchester.

From the personal contemporary pastoral experience of caring for dying people, and with particular attention given to the psychospiritual anguish often associated with the perceived failure of death, I argue that suffering is primarily identified in the modern West as an insult to normality, expressed in various forms of the question: ‘Why me?’. I challenge this view of ‘suffering as insult’ by selectively identifying and critiquing some culturally embedded views of the nature of reality, taking note of the influence on suffering persons of the dialogue between science and faith in the UK, and by introducing dialogue with the process thought of Whitehead as an alternative to traditional theistic models of God. Such a dialogue also affects the nature of the person conceived in imago dei, and so I examine the effect of replacing the rational autonomous individual with the dialogical personhood of McFadyen. I then consider the rehabilitation of suffering as a key experience of metanoia in the formation of the person. Finally I reflect on suffering in postmodernity in the light of Ricoeur’s hypothesis that reality is narrative in form, and develop the argument that suffering can be understood as an ‘ontological impertinence’, analogous to the ‘semantic impertinence’ which Ricoeur attributes to the category of metaphor.

Helen Dare (2013) Always on the way and in the fray: British Baptist hermeneutics in dialogue with Walter Brueggemann. PhD thesis, University of Bristol.

Four hundred years after their beginnings in Europe, Baptists are still proud of their reliance on scripture, which has been at the centre of their devotional life and the basis for their ethics and practice. Among British Baptists, however, sustained self reflection on the reception of the biblical text has been neglected, resulting in a lack of a framework for understanding and negotiating interpretative diversity within the community.

From a different perspective, and critical of ‘reductionist’ Old Testament study, Walter Brueggemann encourages the church and academy to dissent from a dominant interpretative hegemony no longer appropriate in a postmodern context. His work presents Baptists with an imaginative dialogue partner for considering their hermeneutics. His rhetorical and sociological criticism accentuates the dialectical aspect of the biblical text which he believes is crucial to Israel’s faith practice in dialogical relationship with God. In relation to a specific interpretative community, Brueggemann’s commitment to the ongoing interaction of sometimes conflicting testimonies stimulates the work of aspirational Baptist hermeneutics, which draws on, and develops, key Baptist themes of covenant and the ongoing search for further light and truth. The fruits of this reinvigorated approach are highlighted in an analysis of Psalm 22.

In developing Brueggemann’s analysis for the British Baptist context, a renaissance of the Baptist understanding of covenant relationships helps create a hermeneutical context in which Baptists may negotiate interpretative diversity constructively. A renewed commitment to Baptist covenantal understanding of discipleship as ‘walking together with God and with each other’ requires a willingness not to ‘close down’ the process of ongoing biblical interpretation in a desire for interpretative stability and certainty. Instead, a willingness to risk a dialogical openness to the voice of divine and human covenant partners, constitutes interpretation that is always ‘on the way and in the fray’.

Joshua Searle (2012) The Scarlet Woman and the Red Hand: Evangelical Interpretations of the Apocalypse in the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'. PhD thesis, Trinity College, Dublin.

This thesis provides a comprehensive description of how evangelicals in Northern Ireland read the ‘Troubles’ (1966-2007) in the light of how they read the Bible. This study demonstrates that biblical apocalyptic-eschatological language was a decisive presence (albeit often an inconspicuous and subtle presence) in evangelical/fundamentalist discourses concerning the turbulent events that characterised this dark yet fascinating period in the history of Northern Ireland. Like all cultural contexts in which apocalyptic themes retained a compelling contemporary relevance, the history of Northern Ireland during the late twentieth century manifested both the light and dark sides of apocalyptic eschatology. For some the biblical apocalyptic-eschatological texts engendered a sense of foreboding and insecurity, which manifested itself as cultural pessimism, social exclusion or sectarian violence. For others apocalyptic eschatology was interpreted as a vision of hope and a prototype of the redeemed community and, as such, was used to promote a core ethic of inclusive humanity and compassion in order to surmount the conventional distinctions between ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’. If communities read the same texts, why is it that one community interprets the text as a justification to perpetrate exclusion, violence or even murder, whereas another interprets the same text as a stimulus to promote an inclusive ethic that enriches rather than narrows understanding? Rather than providing trite or superficial ‘closed’ answers to this question, this thesis aims to provoke thought by opening up creative new ways of conceptualising the relationship between hermeneutics and cultural studies.

Simon Woodman (2012) Baptist Hermeneutics and the Book of Revelation. PhD, Cardiff University.

E. Anne Clements (2012) Mothers on the margin?: an investigation into the five women of Matthew's geneaology and their significance, both as individuals and collectively, for the gospel narrative. PhD thesis, (Spurgeon's College) University of Wales.

Book Review: Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship

Gathering Together_Baptists at Work in WorshipRodney Wallace Kennedy and Derek C. Hatch (eds.), Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship (Pickwick, 2013), 194pp.

This is a great book that encourages Baptists to more intentionally think about worship. Something that we probably don't pay as much attention as we should. Freedom in worship can translate into sloppy, shallow ill-conceived worship. Gathering Together can be seen in the light, and further development, of work that has been done in the UK, especially by Chris Ellis. In fact the title Gathering Together has resonances with Chris Ellis' own book on the theology and practice of worship, Gathering and the service book he edited with Myra Blyth, Gathering for Worship.

The book has chapters on the different ingredients of worship - prayer, preaching, the Eucharist, the creed, baptism, and music, as well as chapters on the using the Christian year, liturgy has a means of community worship, rather than individual worship. The book also includes sample liturgies for worship and particular occasional services. Contributors include both academic theologians and local pastors, reflecting the book's desire to both encourage theological reflection on worship as well as how this might look in practice. Contributors include a number of younger American Baptist theologians, like Derek Hatch, Scott Bullard and Cameron Jorgenson, who are following in the steps of James McClendon, Steven Harmon, Barry Harvey, Curtis Freeman, Beth Newman and Philip Thompson (both Newman and Thompson have chapters in this book). (Harmon has blogged a helpful series summarising this new generation of Baptists doctoral work).

The book is very American in terms of context, so not all claims about Baptist worship would be true of worship in a UK, European or other part of the world. The chapters on the use of the liturgical year and on liturgy as a means of communal worship are definite highlights and offer something important ways that our worship can be shaped by the gospel story and be multi-voiced.

There is much to learn in this book for any Baptist minister on what makes worship that is faithful and formative and Baptist!

Book Review: Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament by Anthony R. Cross (Pickwick, 2013)

6a00d8341cd50253ef017c343d95ed970b-320wiAnthony R. Cross, Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum (Pickwick, 2013), 403pp

Anthony R. Cross has been thinking and writing about baptism for well over twenty years. His doctoral studies were published as Baptism and the Baptists (Paternoster, 2000) and he has now followed that with Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament, the product of his work done since then. Cross is an evangelical about baptism and, what he argues, as a proper evangelical understanding of baptism, which he says is the New Testament understanding of baptism, which is conversion-baptism. The book is a collection of essays and articles (some published) in the last ten years, which offer a sustained argument for conversion-baptism. In this Cross is a disciple of George Beasley-Murray, who argued to his own generation for a rich theological and biblical understanding of baptism. Beasley-Murray is the most cited name in the numerous (and often long) foonotes. 

Cross demonstrates that he has read almost everything possible on baptism - the biblography stretches to forty-two pages! The opening chapter sets the book in the context of ecumenical and evangelical studies of baptism, claiming that the baptism debate as been predicated on there being two forms of baptism - credo- and paedobaptism. Cross wants to question those presuppositions and argue for 'one baptism', so Ephesisians 4.5. From an evangelical perspectice, Cross believes evangelicals have not paid enough attention to baptism, it has been sidelined, to avoid it being a faultline within the movement.

Chapter 2 makes the argument for conversion-baptism, and then the following chapters argue that there is one baptism (chapter 3), and so no division between water-baptism and Spirit-baptism (chapter 4), baptism is properly understood as sacramental (chapter 5), and it is ecclesial (chapter 7). Chapter 6 makes the case for the possibility that baptism is regenerational and thus should not be dismissed out of hand by evangelicals and by Baptists. Chapter 8 offers some of Cross' most recent work on the ethical and political dimensions and implications of baptism. Cross presents a detailed, step-by-step approach, depending on the skilled scholarship of others, to make his case. This is generally convincing, although I think he too quickly (reduced to a footnote, p.99) dismisses a christological reading of Paul's pistis Christou phrases, which could have implications for his reading, which could either strengthen or weaken it.  

The final chapter culminates in Cross' argument for the reform of baptism, both in theology and practice. As he shows he is not alone in calling for reform, the likes of David Wright, Geoffrey Wainwright and Jurgen Moltmann all call for reform. Cross goes further than these other voices when he writes

What I am proposing in this book, then, is the recovery of New Testament baptism, not a force and unconvincing acceptance that paedobaptism completed in confirmation is equivalent to credobaptism, or a discerning of common features in patterns of initiation that are, in fact, theologically and practically different, nor the abandonment of infant baptism in favour of believers' baptism. Rather, it is a wholesale reform of credo- and paedobaptism to the faith-baptism, the conversion-initiation, mission-baptism of the earliest Christian communities (p.312)

In this we can see both a rejection of the attempts by the Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes and others towards a common pattern of initiation and those Baptists that practice an impoverished thin baptism. 

Cross presents six reforms to the theology and practice of baptism. First, baptism is primarily the action of the triune God; second, to counter an overly individualistic understanding of baptism; third, to reconnect baptism to the gospel; and so fourthly, baptism is part of conversion, not something that follows; fifthly, baptism is an act of believing prayer, so space should be made for a person's testimony; and sixthly, baptism must be integral to church membership.

The book could have done with some editing. Cross' love of the long footnote, sometimes gets in the way of the flow of his argument - it is distracting. Also because it is a collection of essays, there is a times a lot of repetition, which you could suggest is needed to make sure the book's argument gets heard. 

This is an important book for Baptists and Evangelicals. It is a clarion call for baptism to be taken a lot more seriously and centrally in our life, but in particular ways that are theologically-rich and thickly-practiced. I am left wondering whether enough attention is given to our preparing candidates (and at the same time the church) for baptism and to baptismal services in themselves and then also the ongoing importance of baptism in the Christian's life. I am left asking in all our conversations about emerging and missional church, what place does baptism have?

Clint Bass on the (General) Baptist theology of Thomas Grantham

4e454ab2a5e349f49e02c5e22a5e2e7eThe latest book in the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Studies is Clint BassThomas Grantham (1633-1692) and General Baptist Theology, which is a published version of his DPhil completed at Oxford under John Briggs. It can ordered via the Regent's Park College website).

The book tells the life of Thomas Grantham in its first chapter, followed by an account of Grantham’s ecclesiology in its second chapter. Chapter three deals with Thomas Grantham’s view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Chapter four explains the controversy over the laying of the hands, a divisive practice among Baptists of the period. Chapter five covers Grantham’s understanding of salvation. Lastly, chapter six focuses on Grantham’s role in opposition to the Christological deficiency adopted by a small party of his churchmen. In writing the book Dr. Bass addresses some of the misconceptions about the General Baptists, namely when and to what extent they became heterodox in their Christology. He also critiques what some recent authors have said about early Baptist views of the ordinances. “There is a trend to attribute to Grantham a higher sacramentalism than what he actually held in baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” Bass said. The book focuses on Thomas Grantham’s life and thought; however, by interacting with the wider context, Bass also explains how the General Baptists are to be understood in relation to the religious milieu of Restoration England.

This is a welcome contribution to Baptist theology and history. A number of monographs have appeared and appearing on key Baptist theologians from the 17th-19th centuries - Dan Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, John Rippon, Marianne Farningham, Anne Steele, Andrew Fuller, Benjamin Keach, Hanserd Knollys (thanks to Paternoster Studies in Baptist History and Thought series and Regent's Park College Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Studies). Jonathan Arnold's doctoral study on Benjamin Keach (completed at Oxford also under John Briggs) will also being published soon.